Much has been made of Dolphins Pro Bowl and franchise defensive tackle Randy Starks being replaced by Jared Odrick in the starting lineup this preseason.
Starks sat out offseason OTAs as a protest for being slapped with the franchise tag in March, and told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Monday, “I guess (losing the starting spot) is my punishment.”
Of course, the media is going to take that quote and Starks’ $8.5 million salary to come off the bench, and run with it. It is a bit odd on the surface to see a player who is fresh off his second Pro Bowl berth and who was just designated as a franchise player five months ago, to not be on the official starting lineup card to begin the season.
But delve below the surface and you’ll find Starks’ role hasn’t been minimized much, if at all.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle loves to rotate players in and out along the defensive line. Only Jared Odrick played over 1,000 snaps among Dolphins’ defensive linemen in 2012, as lesser-known backups like Derrick Shelby and Tony McDaniel were on the field nearly 20 percent of the time.
Starting defensive tackle Paul Soliai only played 55 percent of the defense’s snaps last season, frequently going to the sidelines on passing downs. That means, on 45 percent of defensive snaps, Randy Starks will be first in line to be on the field.
Starks and Odrick will be the starting duo in the nickel package, which projects to be the defense’s formation just as often as the base. Odrick will get the nod in the 4-3 to start the game, but Starks will also spell him on many downs in the team’s base defense.
Not to mention, Odrick’s defensive end days, while less recurrent, aren’t completely in the rear-view mirror. He sacked Josh Freeman rushing from the edge on Saturday night against the Buccaneers, and the Dolphins will employ him there at least sparingly this season. Doing so opens up another opportunity for Starks to be one of the two first-team tackles.
Randy Starks was on the field for 72 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps in 2012. While that figure may drop as technically a backup in Miami’s base 4-3, it won’t drop drastically.
I would still expect Starks to be on the field for Kevin Coyle’s unit more often than not in 2013, and if he continues to be the dominant interior force he’s been over the past five seasons, he might even earn his starting spot back.
Losing his starting job, whether temporary or permanent, doesn’t necessarily bode well for his prospects of being resigned next offseason, though, as Starks is scheduled to hit the open market when his one-year franchise tag expires. If Jared Odrick can prove to be a Pro-Bowl caliber interior lineman himself this year, the Dolphins would likely allow Starks to walk in free agency next March.
But in 2013, even as a labeled backup, Starks will provide the Dolphins with one of the league’s top three-man rotations at defensive tackle and won’t be on the sidelines considerably more than he was as a starter.